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EARLY MISCONCEPTIONS AND CONFUSION ON THE QUESTION OF THE TEN TRIBES.


I have thought it necessary to enter all the more fully into this point, because even some otherwise sober-minded teachers and writers, who are not Anglo-Israelites, have fallen into some confusion in dealing with this subject; and no wonder, for already Josephus, who vaguely locates a separate multitude belonging to the Ten Tribes somewhere beyond the Euphrates ("Antiq." xi. 1, 2)—a Jewish tradition which locates a mighty kingdom of the Ten Tribes beyond the fabled miraculous river Sambation, which no one can cross because it throws up stones all the week, and only rests on the Sabbath; and the Talmud (Jer. Sanhedrin, 29, c.), which speaks of three localities whither they had been banished, viz., the district around the above wonderful Sambation, Daphne, near Antioch; and the third locality could neither be seen nor named because it was continually hidden by a cloud—all these show how early people's minds became muddled on this subject.[1]

Coming to the legends about the Ten Tribes in more modern times, Eldad Ben Mahli Ha Dani came forward in the ninth century claiming to give specific details of the contemporary existence of the Ten Tribes and of their location at that time.

"Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher were," according to him, "in Havilah; Zebulun and Reuben in the mountains of Paran; Ephraim, and half of Manasseh, in South Arabia; Simeon, and the other half of Manasseh, in the land of Chazars (?)." According to him, therefore, "the Ten Tribes were settled in parts of Southern Arabia, or perhaps Abyssinia, in conformity with the identification of Havilah. The connection of this view with that of the Jewish origin of Islam is obvious; and David Reubeni revived the view in stating that he was related to the king of the tribes of Reuben situated in Khaibar in North Arabia.

"According to Abraham Farisol, the remaining tribes were in the desert, on the way to Mecca, near the Red Sea; but he himself identifies the River Ganges with the River Gozan, and assumes that the Beni-Israel of India are the descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes. The Ganges, thus identified by him with the River Sambation, divides the Indians from the Jews. The confusion between Ethiopia and Farther India, which existed in the minds of the ancients and mediæval geographers, caused some writers to place the Lost Ten Tribes in Abyssinia. Abraham Yagel, in the sixteenth century, did so, basing his conclusions on the accounts of David Reubeni and Eldad Ha Dani. It is probable that some of the reports of the Falashas led to this identification. According to Yagel, messengers were sent to these colonists in the time of Pope Clement VII., some of whom died, while the rest brought back tidings of the greatness of the tribes and their very wide territories. Yagel quotes a Christian traveller, Vincent of Milan, who was a prisoner in the hands of the Turks for twenty-five years, and who went as far as Fez, and thence to India, where he found the River Sambation, and a number of Jews dressed in silk and purple. They were ruled by seven kings, and upon being asked to pay tribute to the Sultan Salim, they declared that they had never paid tribute to any sultan or king. It is just possible that this may have some reference to the 'Sâsanam' or the Jews of Cochin.

"It is further stated that in 1630 a Jew of Salonica travelled to Ethiopia, to the land of Sambation; and that in 1646 one Baruch, travelling in Persia, claimed to have met a man named Malkiel, of the tribe of Naphtali, and brought back a letter from the king of the children of Moses: this letter was seen by Azulai. It was afterwards reprinted in Jacob Saphir's book of travels (Eben Sappir, 1. 98).

"So much interest was taken in this account that in 1831 a certain Baruch ben Samuel, of Pinsk, was sent to search for the children of Moses in Yemen. He travelled fifteen days in the wilderness, and declared he met Danites feeding flocks of sheep. So, too, in 1854, a certain Amram Ma'arabi set out from Safed in search of the Ten Tribes; and he was followed in 1857 by David Ashkenazi, who crossed over through Suakin to make enquiries about the Jews of Abyssinia."[2]

But all these are legends and fancies. "We in this twentieth century," to quote the words of a Christian writer, "to whom there is no longer any part of the earth unknown, know that in no country whatever, however far from civilisation it may be, do the Ten Tribes dwell. The 'travellers' tales' have been proved to be false; the Ten Tribes, as such, do not exist." In this connection I may quote Professor A. Neubauer, a prominent learned Jew, who sums up his studies in a series of illuminating articles on the subject which will be found in Vol. I. of The Jewish Quarterly Review, with these words:—

"Where are the Ten Tribes? We can only answer, Nowhere. Neither in Africa, nor in India, China, Persia, Kurdistan, the Caucasus, or Bokhara. We have said that a great part of them remained in Palestine, partly mixing with the Samaritans, and partly amalgamating with those who returned from the captivity of Babylon. With them many came also from the cities of the Medes, and many, no doubt, adhered to the Jewish religion which was continued in Mesopotamia during the period of the Second Temple."

Some Christian writers cling to the view that while some of the "Ten Tribes" amalgamated with the "Jews," there is nevertheless a distinct people somewhere, who are descendants of the Israel of the ancient northern kingdom, which is to be brought to light in the future, and, together with "Judah," will be restored to Palestine, and enter into the enjoyment of the promises. Thus the Nestorians, who inhabit the inaccessible mountains of Kurdistan (which is part of ancient Assyria), the Afghans, the North American Indians, and even the Japanese have been variously identified as that people; but this view rests upon what I believe to be a misconception of the meaning and scope of some of the prophecies.

It may be true that the Nestorians, and the Afghans, and some other Eastern tribes are descendants of the original Israelitish exiles in Assyria, but having more or less mixed themselves up by inter-marriage with the surrounding nations, and having given up the distinctive national rites and ordinances, such as circumcision, the observance of the Sabbath, etc., they have, like many "Jews" in modern times (who gradually assimilate with Gentile nations), cut themselves off from the hope of Israel, and are no longer in the line of the purpose which God has in and through that "peculiar" and separate people.


  1. It has also been supposed that the references by Agrippa in his remarkable oration (reported by Josephus, "Wars," ii., xvi. 4)—to those who dwelt "as far as beyond the Euphrates," and to "those of your nation who dwell in Adiabene," upon whom the Jews might rely for help in their struggle against Rome, but would not be permitted by the Parthians to render them any assistance—were to some unknown settlements belonging to the Ten Tribes. But this is a mistake. These dwellers in Adiabene might or might not have belonged to the Ten Tribes, but they formed part of the known Dispersion and of "your nation"—the Jews.
  2. Jewish Encyclopædia.